From the Mailbag

healthWe recently got a question by e-mail from someone who touched on a topic that’s somewhat related to Elizabeth’s “Women Will Die” post from earlier this week. The e-mail asked if we knew what percentage of abortions are performed for the health of the mother, and among these, how many are done because the life of the mother is threatened? Since these questions are ones that are fairly commonly asked, I’ve included my reply below.

Abortion and the Health/Life of the Mother

Dear Friend, Thanks for writing. There isn’t a short answer to this question. The statistics that I’ve come across — such as on this page from the pro-life group Center for Bio-Ethical Reform — which cites stats from the Guttmacher Institute, which is closely affiliated with the U.S.’s leading abortion provider, Planned Parenthood — indicate that “6% of abortions occur because of potential health problems regarding either the mother or child”, but it doesn’t break the figure down further [emphasis added]. Another problem with this statistic is that “health” reasons can be broadly interpreted to include any aspect of physical, mental, or emotional health. Thus, for example, a woman could claim that continuing a pregnancy would cause her emotional stress — meaning that her reason for having an abortion could, for statistical purposes, be considered health-related. As for whether direct abortion is ever necessary to save a woman’s life, the answer is no. Over 480 physicians have signed a declaration stating:

I agree that there is never a situation in the law or in the ethical practice of medicine where a preborn child’s life need be intentionally destroyed by procured abortion for the purpose of saving the life of the mother. A physician must do everything possible to save the lives of both of his patients, mother and child. He must never intend the death of either.

I should point out here also that many people who bring up the issue of abortion threatening the life of the mother have in mind the example of an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants in one of the fallopian tubes. In this situation, there is a morally acceptable procedure a doctor can perform if the embryo is unable to be detached from the fallopian tube. This intervention involves removal of the whole section of the tube on the side of the woman’s body where the unborn child is lodged. And while it is foreseen that the embryo will die as a result, his death is not intended, which means it is not an abortion. Bioethicist Fr. Tad Pacholczyk explains more about what is and is not morally acceptable regarding ectopic pregnancy here. (You’ll also notice that he notes that about half the time, ectopic pregnancies are resolved with the embryo being lost naturally, without any need for intervention.) I hope this helps. If you have any further questions, please let us know.

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